It took a while to get the permission to use the below photo, but here's an excerpt from the article on "The Myth of the Continental Dollar" by Erik Goldstein and David McCarthy in the
January 2018 issue of The Numismatist, the official journal of the American Numismatic Association.
Thanks to Dr. Catherine Eagleton, Tom Hockenhull, Curator of Modern Money at the British Museum, Erik Goldstein, and Numismatist Editor Barbara Gregory for their assistance. -Editor
We all know that a frequently repeated theory tends to gain traction over time, often morphing into generally accepted fact. This seems to be the case with the Continental Dollar. But maybe it’s time for a fresh look at
the plain facts, which is the intended goal of this article. Stripped bare, the truths behind the creation of these pieces are sure to raise some eyebrows.
Let’s start this exploration by leaving the standard numismatic references on the shelf and heading right for the “primary sources.” These are the original words written, or not written, about the Continental Dollar
during the time of its creation and initial availability, taken strictly from those familiar with the coins and the official entity that is supposed to have issued them. As such, these contemporaneous testimonies represent
the most credible form of historical information on this subject.
The next several paragraphs describe the life of Pierre Eugene du Simitière, an early student and collector of American numismatics. -Editor
du Simitière died in October 1784 before he could complete his historiographical work. To settle his estate, his vast collection of coins, books and papers, as well as the contents of his private museum of natural
history, were sold at auction in Philadelphia. Today, there are significant repositories of his papers at the Library Company of Philadelphia and the National Archives in Washington D.C.
Among the holdings of the latter are two texts of utmost importance to this subject. The first is du Simitière’s chronological list of the coins, medals and paper notes he acquired between August 1775 and December 1783,
detailing 137 separate entries. Clearly a voracious and astute collector, du Simitière noted in his memorandum nine pieces of Massachusetts silver, seven Higley coppers and a Lion & Wolf medal, along with other material
we’d all kill for.
Most important to our examination, no Continental Dollar was listed. Thus, du Simitière hadn’t acquired one by the end of 1783, more than seven years after their supposed date of striking. Curious, eh?
But wait, there’s more. Du Simitière also had a plan in the works to publish a history of the American colonial period and the Revolution entitled Common Place Book, 1775-1784, illustrated by “Medals, Seals, Coins,
Devices, Statues, Monuments, Badges, &c…” Appearing at the end is a list of intended plates, including many familiar treasures like Comitia Americana medals and a Virginia “Happy While United” medal of 1780.
Entry No. 18, though, is of great interest to us:
A coin of the Size of a Crown, with devices and Mottos taken from the continental money, Struck’t in London on Type-Metal, and dated 1776.
Are we to believe that a historian and collector of du Simitière’s stature and awareness, with so many ties to the Continental Congress, was unable to collect an example of the pewter (that is, “Type-Metal”) money
purportedly issued by that very governmental body? Could he have been so grossly mistaken about the piece’s true origin? How would you like to buy a bridge in Brooklyn?
Directing our attention across the ocean to London, we next delve into the ledgers left by Sarah Sophia Banks. Completed by 1815 and augmented until her death in 1818, these eight volumes detail the 9,000 numismatic items
she collected, now fundamental cores of the collections at the British Museum and the Royal Mint Museum. First listed in Banks’ pre-1790 catalogue of acquisitions, the Continental Dollar in her collection was described
Congress Dollar. 1776. never current, struck on speculation in Europe, for sale in America…
Toward the end of her life, Banks was tidying up the documentation of her legacy and had occasion to mention this enigmatic piece once again in a new ledger, this time adding further fuel to our collective fire. Added to
her restatement of what she believed about these pieces, in her own hand, is a tipped-in flyer, measuring 61/8” x 43/8,” carrying these typeset words:
These American MEDALS at
N.B. Representing the Paper Currency of a
Dollar, which goes for
Four Shillings and Six-pence in that Country.
E X P L A N A T I O N
The Thirteen Colonies united like a Chain, with
the Names of each on the Ringlets, the Words,
“AMERICAN CONGRESS” within, in the Cen-
ter, “WE ARE ONE” and with Rays of the Sun
shooting to each Ringlet, as a Glory.
The Reverse is the Sun going round its Orbit,
with a Motto “FUGIO” signifying, I fly:
under the Dial is “MIND YOUR BUSINESS.”
The Date, 1776, is the time they
The Letters E.G, FECIT, its maker’s Name.
As was customary during the 18th century, certain medals—especially those with allegorical representations that might not have been easily understood on their own—were sold with descriptive flyers. Such was the case with
a number of medals struck in Europe that commemorated the end of the Revolutionary War, and the Treaty of Paris. This ephemeral leaflet, carefully preserved by Banks, is perhaps the only surviving explanatory flyer that
originally accompanied the sale of one of these “Congress Dollars.”
The full article runs seven pages, and I encourage anyone with an interest in the topic take a few minutes to read it. The authors summarize their conclusions and tease the follow-on article, which I
understand is slated for the upcoming July 2018 issue of The Numismatist. -Editor
In light of the above evidence, can we accept these “Continental Dollars” as American-made Revolutionary coins of 1776? What if they are just cheap European commemoratives, privately produced as little more than “for
sale” pieces of merchandise? In the near future, we plan to present a follow-up to this article, in which we will look at some of the questionable “facts” that have made it into print regarding this numismatic enigma.
To read earlier E-Sylum articles, see:
NOTES ON THE ORIGINS OF THE CONTINENTAL DOLLAR (http://www.coinbooks.org/v20/esylum_v20n41a16.html)
ONGOING THOUGHTS ON THE CONTINENTAL DOLLAR (http://www.coinbooks.org/v20/esylum_v20n43a12.html)
CONTINENTAL DOLLARS REVISITED (http://www.coinbooks.org/v21/esylum_v21n14a13.html)
Wayne Homren, Editor
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